Blackberry Smoke + Biters
Tuesday 28th March
The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London
North London became part of the Confederacy the last time we saw Blackberry Smoke at Islington's O2 Academy three years ago - so much so that they they walked away with our 2014 WRC Best International Award! With great support from fellow Atlanta based band Biters, Blackberry Smoke proved at a packed London Roundhouse on Tuesday night that they have still got what it takes in the Southern Rockin' department! Now two further albums down the line, namely 'Holding All The Roses' and Like An Arrow', their distinct dueling guitars/keyboards sound that they burn, sent the Smoke faithful home happy on their way back to Chalk Farm station.
Their set opened with the riff heavy rocker, ‘Fire in the Hole from 'HATR' which managed to get in a funky section that recalls Rosco Gordon’s old R&B classic, ‘Just a Little Bit' with an "Oh Yea" from foot tappin' frontman Charlie Starr - his guitar solo and some wonderful Brandon Still keys setting the standard for the evening. "Alright" screamed Starr as the Roundhouse roared their approval for the catchy 'Six Ways To Sunday' from their third and breakthrough album 'The Whippoorwil' - which would predominantly feature during the set - this one much more country with its distinct bar room piano.
No time for any banter as we then literally had 'A Little Piece Of Dixie' with 'Good One Comin' On' from their 2009 second album with more of Still's bar room piano plus Charlie's slide guitar - the devil horn fingers from the young lady next to me not that appropriate - but I got the sentiment. Contrast that with the slower guitar and hammond organ driven riff of the next song 'Crimson Moon', another from 'TW', and for mine we were back in the zone.
And talking of tough, sinewy riff heavy tracks, the Bad Company/Brit Rock inspired ‘Waiting for the Thunder’ from 'LAA' with its crashing drums, greasy riffs and arm-waving chorus, rocked The Roundhouse, every bit as powerful when I first saw it on Mr. Holland's 'Later' show. Their genre rollercoaster of a set list continued with ‘Rock and Roll Again’ from 'HATR' almost sounding like something from the songbook of Dave Edmunds - always a good path to roam. From hand clapping to hand waving as Paul Jackson grabbed his acoustic guitar on the very country 'Pretty Little Lie' from 'TW' before Starr cried "God bless Chuck Berry" as the chugging boogie of the appropriately titled ‘Let it Burn’ from 'LAA' saw the band return to their bar band roots with once again some nice bar room piano from Brandon in the background.
Half way through their set they delivered a very tasty meat in their sandwich with 'Sleeping Dogs' from 'TW' - beautifully elongated with a jam medley of
Zeps 'Your Time Is Gonna Come', The Allman Brothers ‘Mountain Jam’ with Starr and Jackson's jousting guitars being joined by Still on Yes’s ‘Starship Trooper' - it just does not get much better than that - real music y'all! We were then 'Shakin' Hands With The Holy Ghost', its cajun style opening riff, pounding drums and harmonies - a fan's favourite from 'TW' - which had hands clapping before it led into the title track, the distinctive intro of the slower Floyd flavoured 'The Whipoorwill', once again demonstrating that these guys can turn their talents to anything. Loved it.
It was time then for a "Hoedown" with more 'Little Pieces Of Dixie' and 'Watch The World Go Up In Smoke' - with two attempts - the chivalrous Starr initially curtailing the intro when he spotted a fan collapse close to the barrier at the front of the stage. As I said, given the breakneck speed delivery of the set, their was not much time for small talk - although when Starr again spotted a fan video linking the gig to a friend - he asked for the mobile to be passed to him and he had a chat to the bemused fan at the other end. Nice touch - although we couldn't confirm whether the mobile was, ahem, a Blackberry. It was probably a good time at that juncture to slow down things down, Starr grabbing his acoustic guitar for the singalong 'Ain't Got The Blues' from 'TW' - despite its title - more Country with that trademark bar room piano. As Charlie put it - if the former was their happy song then, in stark contrast, 'Paybacks A Bitch' from 'HATR' was their angry song with its groovy Rock riff - one of the stand out tracks of the set.
'Free On The Wing' was appropriately dedicated to kindred spirit and Smoke supporter Gregg Allman, who guested on vocals on the track from 'Like An Arrow', both Starr's vocal delivery and slide guitar doing the business on this slow burner. The intro of 'Humble Pie's 'Walk On Gilded Splinters' took us down the path to more 'Little Pieces Of Dixie' and 'Restless' as the Smoke faithful cussed along to this stormer - with once again Starr's guitar and Still's keyboards kicking ass. "In the tiny town where I come from" sang the crowd - another Country favourite from 'TW' - 'One Horse Town' before Blackberry Smoke wrapped up their set in contrast with the heavier title track from their latest offering 'Like An Arrow' and its distorted opening riff. The encore was the microcosm that is indeed Blackberry Smoke. We now had a had-trick in both senses, with both hatted drummer Brit Turner and bass guitarist Richard Turner, now being joined by the feather hatted Starr, banging out a cover of the Stones 'Street Fighting Man', 'LAA's' appropriately named 'What Comes Naturally' - another dip into their Country roots, and finally despite, for mine, Charlie's uncomfortable slide guitar intro of 'Amazing Grace' - the heavier riff of 'Ain't Much Left Of Me', another for good measure from 'TW', rounded off a ram jammed set list - Starr's slide even squeezing in Bob Marley's 'Three Little Birds' in the middle! No BS. These guys were on fire tonight.